“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see.”
It was a great reunion. Mel Toalston wore his World War II Navy dress blues and a big smile. My Army buddy Ben Weber introduced me to each member of his family. And Liston Barber’s smile was wider even than when we ventured to Washington in May.
I enjoyed seeing them again — the 26 World War II veterans from Louisiana and East Texas who made up Brookshire’s/Super 1 Foods World War II Heroes Flight, the company’s eighth.
Meeting at the Marshall Convention Center, the aging warriors and their families enjoyed a farewell dinner, accepted a photo memory book of their journey and watched a video presentation about their trip to visit the World War II Memorial in the nation’s capital.
I chanced upon George Martin, the self-proclaimed “ambassador” for the Watkins-Logan Veterans Home. George has been ailing lately, but he still gets out to visit his friends at Brookshire’s – Sam, Teri, Carolyn, Brooke, Brad, Ann, Lauren, Ellen, Rick… all those who wheeled him around Washington just over a year ago.
George was at the dinner to support his friend and fellow Watkins-Logan resident, Navy veteran Allen Brown. I had dropped in on Allen just a few weeks ago, and I asked if he was making progress on a book he is writing about growing up in Panama. He smiled, told me it was “coming along” and introduced me to his son, Allen Brown Jr., of Tyler.
It was good seeing Claude Grisham of Holly Lake Ranch. The infantry platoon sergeant, part of the Normandy invasion force, sat with me and shared his story as we watched an IMAX presentation on D-Day at the Air and Space Museum. Weeks later, I bumped into Claude and his wife at the Louis & Peaches Owen Heart Hospital.
The veterans kept thanking me — and Brookshire’s, of course. I seconded their praise of the regional grocery chain now planning its ninth trip. But I felt so fortunate to fly with them I had trouble accepting their thanks. “No, don’t thank me,” I kept saying, “This is for what you did for us. Thank you.”
I treasure getting to know the veterans through the Heroes Flights. Many have remained friends long after their return home. I enjoy telling their stories, and when I get it right, and they tell me they liked the way I told it … well, it makes me smile.
That’s what I enjoy most about writing my Focal Point column … the interaction I have with readers. I’m always surprised by what strikes your fancy, what makes you laugh, which memories you latch onto and what triggers those emotions. Many of you are not bashful about telling me. So, from time to time, I want to share a few of your comments.
Some, like Becky Ellis, and her husband Rick, who helped host the Brookshire’s event in Marshall, keep up with my ramblings every week and never fail to say something about the most recent one.
A few readers identified with my clumsy efforts to ski on a choppy western Kansas lake. Claude Henry said he also learned to ski behind a 35 horsepower boat with some high school buddies and has lots of fond memories. “Every summer, three or four of my adult buddies who are all approaching 60 and have formed the OMSC (Old Man’s Ski Club) get together at Lake Belton to have a day on the water,” he wrote. “We’ve pledged to keep doing it as long as our bodies will allow.”
A number of you responded to my column on Julie Marie Welch, one of the 168 victims of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. That piece connected with many readers, those with ties to the city and others who watched the horror unfold on television.
LaDonna Allen, a nurse at ETMC who calls herself an “Okie at heart,” wrote, “The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building really hit close to my heart. In fact, my grandparents were in downtown OKC when it occurred. They felt the impact, but were not injured. They and my parents are since deceased, but oh how I wish I could share your article with them.”
One reaction to the Julie Welch column came from my cousin’s husband, Dan Hubbard. We don’t see each other often enough, but keep up through online posts. After reading last Wednesday’s column, he shared his story of the bombing in a Facebook message. He wanted … no, he needed to tell it. Dan’s writing and the story he tells are powerful. He was nine blocks away from the blast, but it impacted him directly, personally. His story appears on this page as a “My Story” submission. I recommend it. Thanks, Dan, for sharing.
Mike McNally, a longtime Tyler attorney, grew up in Kansas and said my stories bring back many memories. He is drawn to the stories about growing up on the farm, summer jobs and lessons learned. He also loves Ireland, so my “Never Pass Up A Blue Boat” column and description of the Kenmare River and Beara Peninsula struck a chord with him. Keep reading, Mike; thanks for the compliments. I enjoyed our talk last week.
My column “How Much Do I Owe You?” created a lot of good comments. Carol Thompson of Tyler enjoyed the story about working in my father’s gas station and a “pay it forward” lesson learned long ago. “You learned more that night than you could ever have learned with five degrees,” she wrote. “When you finish reading a column with a big lump in your throat, you know you have a winner.” Thanks, Carol.
Janis Johns forwarded that same column to her family. Janice Caldwell sent a note from her iPad saying she “could feel the love between father and son, the quiet dignity and strength of your father and the work ethic instilled by him.” Lyn Wineland said “the writing is lovely, but the stories you tell about your young life in Kansas keep me spellbound.” A 90-year-old woman, who called but didn’t leave her name, said it was her favorite and “touched my heart.” Please call again. I would love to talk with you.
Tylerite Jim Beasley, describing himself as a 73-year-old struggling writer, said he enjoys the articles about my life experiences, saying they “successfully convey a feeling to others that places them in your shoes, seeing your experience as their own.” I encouraged Jim to submit something of his as a “My Story,” and he did. I hope you enjoyed his July 9 story called “Manna from Heaven.” He said the comments received since then have encouraged him to keep writing.
“I thoroughly enjoy the new section ‘My Generation,’” wrote Vivian Cox, of Mineola. “Of course, I hate to admit it IS my generation. But it is true. The stories are interesting, encouraging and refreshing. They bring the past back with meaning. Yes it is because so much is familiar because I have lived those times too.”
Joann Rairigh has been a wonderful fan, sharing with me the story telling of the memoir-writing group at Meadow Lakes. I received a wonderful reception both times I spoke there, and Joann always greeted me with a big smile. You’ve already read several stories from that group, the most recent by Seth Cowan (“The Burglary of Poor Mrs. Toppings”). Joann’s story, and others from the group, will appear later this summer.
Finally, I got a short text message from Brooke Moran, a wonderful member of the Brookshire’s team, who shared a friendship with Jim Callanan, the submariner I wrote about twice, first in the column “In Search of the Batfish” and again in “Keeping a Promise.” Jim’s son had called to say that more than a year after his death, his father’s last wish was being granted.
Thursday, my good friend, James B. Callanan, proud crew member of the USS Batfish (SS 310), will be laid to rest near his wife Anna in Arlington National Cemetery. If you read my Memorial Day column, “Silence in the Gardens of Stone,” you know Arlington is a special place. It pleases me to know the Tyler veteran will soon join so many other heroes on those green, wooded slopes.
Tomorrow, at 3 p.m. Washington time, his family will gather around, the Navy will salute one of its own, a rifle squad will fire three volleys, the bugler will send the 24 haunting notes of Taps echoing across the cemetery… and I will think of Jim.
Yes, that makes me smile.
Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His Focal Point column appears every Wednesday in the My Generation section. Next week, we’ll talk about “The Five Stages of Grief.”